Naming the unified institution

As Johnson and Lyndon are about to find out, a new unified institution will require a new name that reflects the change. On November 4, Vermont State Colleges Chancellor Jeb Spaulding came to the Johnson campus to hold a community meeting about what the new name should be.

While Spaulding has been working closely with JSC President Elaine Collins and LSC Interim President Nolan Atkins to consider what this new name should be, the recommendation made to the VSC Board of Trustees in late November will ultimately be up to him.

“One thing I can assure you is that there’s no possible way we’re going to come up with a name that everybody is happy with,” said Spaulding. “Some people feel very strongly that the new unified institution should be a college. Some people feel very strongly that it should be a university. You can’t be both. One argument people make in favor of ‘university’ is that if you’re going to be attractive for international students, they sometimes think the word ‘college’ means a secondary school, not an institution of higher education.

“If we’re going to be continuing to build our online and distance-learning programs, the experts seem to think that those folks gravitate toward ‘university,’” he continued.

Earlier this fall, the chancellor’s office put out a survey asking students, faculty and staff about their ideas for the new name. The results showed that approximately 57 percent of the 475 total responses favored ‘university,’ while 43 percent favored ‘college.’ The email also indicated strong support for a word indicating place — like ‘northern’ — to be in the name.

According to Spaulding, everything comes down to two basic options: a minimalist approach or an ambitious one.

“[We have] two schools of thought here. One is, ‘let’s make as little change as we possibly can, rock the boat as little as we can.’ The other approach is to say, ‘hey, wait a minute. This opportunity doesn’t come along too often. Maybe we ought to think big and use it as a strategic opportunity to position ourselves for what we aspire to be three, five, 10 years down the road.’

“I do feel strongly that [while] it might be easier on us to do the minimalist approach, we’re probably going to be smarter to think big about what we want to do to position ourselves for strength three and five years down the road,” he continued.

When comments from the audience were opened up, one of the most fruitful exchanges was between associate professors Tyrone Shaw and Sharon Twigg, both of the writing and literature department.

“I’d just like to emphasize the importance that — whatever title we end up with — ‘state’ is prominently in it,” said Shaw. “We ought to wear that proudly. We have an important social mission. We all know that and we all feel it. That ought to be honored. The legislature needs to be aware constantly that this is a state institution and they are obliged to support us. Although they run away from that obligation repeatedly, we need to keep holding it up. Maybe eventually they’ll realize it. Without the ‘state’ in there, I think our identity and our purpose become blurry.”

“I agree with Tyrone, philosophically,” said Twigg. “However, practically, I do not. I guess I’m just a little more mercenary. Castleton took ‘state’ out of their name, slowly but surely. For whatever reason, right now in the twenty-first century, that is something that people are finding more appealing. ‘State,’ even though we know Vermont is a great state and we’re a state institution, I think that we can own that in other ways. I think that students and others perceive that as the fall-back school or the safety school.”